Childhood lessons for a meaningful Lent
Many people have morning rituals. Before I became an almost full-time caretaker for three young grandsons, mine included stretching, prayer, a good cup of tea and catching up with news I missed during the night.
Now, it is thanking God I’ve made it to another day, preparing lunches, feeding the dog and taking vitamins. A hot cup of tea doesn’t always make it to the day until all the boys have been dropped off at school.
One thing their morning has never included, even before my time with them, is technology – no phones, tablets, computers or other distractions. There is a time for those things after homework is done, but I’ve found that it’s very easy to slip into letting that time overtake them.
I try to keep in mind a story I read some years ago: “The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids.” The story underscored the damage social media and an obsession with mobile devices cause to children’s mental health.
The article notes that, among other things, children suffer from an absence of dull moments and are being deprived of the important fundamentals of a healthy childhood, including opportunities for boredom.
Boredom is a nurturer for children, giving them a much-needed absence of stimulation, a blessed silence, moments when they can hear the whirring of their own minds in creative endeavors, an opportunity for them to hear the whisperings of God instead of the noise of everything else. Children, like adults, need time to think.
When my husband was a child, before the advent of “time out,” his mom doled out the punishment of pulling weeds. No sitting in the corner for my husband or his siblings. They could reflect on their wrong-doings and make themselves useful at the same time.
I often wondered if his mother took her cue from Venerable Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen, whom she greatly admired, and who once said, “We can think of Lent as a time to eradicate evil or cultivate virtue, a time to pull up weeds or to plant good seeds. Which is better is clear, for the Christian ideal is always positive rather than negative.”
My mother-in-law, who was no shrinking violet, would no doubt have reminded Bishop Sheen that you can’t plant the good seeds until you pull the weeds.
For today’s overwhelmed adults, a time of emptiness devoid of worldly distractions is a feast for the spiritual life. Such is the wisdom of Ash Wednesday, and the days of Lent – time set aside in the liturgical year to focus interiorly on our relationship with God, and subsequently, our relationship with others. It is a time to strengthen both, realizing that our relationship with God is meaningless if some good for the other does not flow from it.
It seems we often focus solely on the solemnity of Lent because of our understanding of sacrifice. I have actually learned to do Lent better by watching my grandchildren in those dull moments when they are not distracted by toys or technology, when they have been sent outside because they are bored and are soon excitedly gathering stones and pine cones, examining bugs or pulling apart fallen seed packets. They plant seeds with great expectations that they will return in a few days to find new seedlings growing.
That is how I wish to approach Lent, when making sacrifice is a time of discovery, and when an examination of conscience leading to change is an experience of joy, remembering Thomas Merton’s words: “Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast.”